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Tags: israel | politics | judaism | military | protest

Israel's Ultra-Orthodox Stage Huge Anti-Draft Protest

Sunday, 02 March 2014 08:55 AM EST

JERUSALEM — Jerusalem braced for a mass protest Sunday by ultra-Orthodox Jews enraged over plans to conscript their young men for Israeli military service.

Police said "hundreds of thousands" were likely to attend the demonstration alongside the main road in and out of the city and that there would be major disruption of traffic.

"Police have completed security preparations for huge demonstration this afternoon at entrance of Jerusalem. Hundreds of thousands expected," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld wrote on Twitter.

He said that 3,500 police would be deployed to maintain order.

The protests were sparked by cuts in government funding to Jewish theological seminaries, or yeshivas, and a planned crackdown on young ultra-Orthodox men seeking to avoid Israel's compulsory military draft.

The cabinet last year agreed to end a practice under which tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox were exempted from military service if they were in full-time yeshiva study.

New legislation is so far incomplete, but a parliamentary committee recently approved a draft bill setting quotas for ultra-Orthodox men joining the military or civilian public service, to be implemented beginning in the year 2017.

The proposed law allows for sanctions against men who evade service, including imprisonment, a clause that enraged the ultra-Orthodox leadership, which said it would amount to the Jewish state sending people to prison for practicing their religion.

The move to force ultra-Orthodox men to serve their country is seen by many Israelis as amending the historic injustice of the exemption handed to the ultra-Orthodox in 1948, when Israel was created. At that time they were a small segment of society.

Owing to their high birth rate, the ultra-Orthodox community has since swelled to make up roughly 10 percent of the country's population of just over eight million, and continues to be the fastest growing group in Israel.

The current exemption from military service is only given to ultra-Orthodox men who commit to remain in their yeshivas, and who are hence not available for work.

This creates poverty among the ultra-Orthodox and is seen by Israel's leadership as a growing threat to the national economy.

The new policy is primarily aimed at increasing ultra-Orthodox participation in the work force.

MP Nissim Zeev, of the opposition ultra-Orthodox Shas party, said the new policy amounted to religious persecution.

"The aim (of the protest) is to send an unequivocal message to the government," he told public radio.

"Enough is enough, you must stop this persecution."

The protest and prayer meeting, called by leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis, was scheduled to begin late Sunday afternoon and last for two hours, but the Jerusalem city council said roads in the area would close along with the central bus station.

© AFP 2023

Jerusalem braced for a mass protest Sunday by ultra-Orthodox Jews enraged over plans to conscript their young men for Israeli military service.
Sunday, 02 March 2014 08:55 AM
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